Beware of Library Malpractice


June 2017
From the Desk of Deb
by Deborah B. Ford

A librarian once told me she was tired of complaints when she “threw away a perfectly good book.” So when a new wing at her high school was under construction, she literally decided she would bury the whole discussion. The foundation had been dug and on Monday, the concrete would be poured. On Sunday, she took her weeded books, chunked them in a wheelbarrow and dumped them in the hole. She said, “Our new wing is built on misinformation.”

Weeding doesn’t have to be so dramatic, but I know sometimes it feels as if no one understands. Failing to rid your library of incorrect, outdated books borders on malpractice. (No you can’t get sued, but are you really doing your community a service?) You can change public perspective. It’s all a matter of marketing.

Most libraries are not museums, and sadly, some books are like milk—they have a shelf life. West Germany is no longer a country. We have walked on the moon—and women work for NASA. True, macramé has made a comeback, but color pictures are all the rage now. Kids should wear safety equipment in a chemistry lab and while riding their bikes. Can you keep your collection current and teach your community that you aren’t throwing away a “perfectly good book?”

  1. 1. Develop a policy for collection development. When a library committee collectively writes a collection development policy it will include procedures and guidelines for selection and de-selection. When someone questions your judgement, you can fall back on the literal black and white. Look around for a library system or school district that has one. Try these examples: Charleston County Public Library or SC School Library.

  2. 2. Use your policies to create a donation brochure. When someone donates a set of 1942 encyclopedias, you can thank them for their gift while handing them a brochure. Be sure it says that donations must meet collection development requirements. Donations may be given away, used in STEAM activities, or in makerspaces. You can also use the donation experience to teach them about the usefulness of their donation. And no, foreign countries and poor libraries don’t need 1942 reference books either.

  3. 3. Teach your readers (teachers, patrons, community) about the CREW method Start with your users. Teach them about book care. Books that are worn out can only be taped so many times. When you are teaching research, teach them to look at copyright dates and help you weed outdated information. As part of your lessons, you can have kids find examples of books that are no longer needed.

  4. 4. Be careful in your “free book” display. Free books sounds like a great thing. It can, however, imply that you have so many books you can just give them away. Instead make a sign that advertises outdated books for craft/vintage lovers.

  5. 5. Be ready to defend your choices for deselection. Have an elevator speech. “I’m ridding my readers of misinformation. I’m preventing asthma. The Berlin Wall was taken down. This book is now in the fourth edition.”

  6. 6. Don’t be ashamed. You don’t have to bury books in the dumpster or pour concrete over them. Collection development is a continual process. By providing accurate information and creating space for newer, better materials, you are doing everyone in your community a service.

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